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June 06, 2006

McDonalds Interactive goes solo - in supernova

I'm not sure what's going on here, but Kotaku reports that McDonalds Interactive - the gaming division of Maccy D's (!) - is going solo after a blockbuster of a speech delivered at the International Serious Games Event. Kotaku also mentions that this may be part of an elaborate hoax of some sort, but I'm not seeing the connection there (to Molleindustria, seemingly unrelated).

Anyway - a buddy was at the very conference, and sent in his copious notes, which I've repro'd here. It makes for amazing reading:

"Just come from a talk at the International Serious Games Event in Birmingham, where we saw the Strategic Communications manager for McDonald's describe a training game McDonald's have been using that reveals exactly how damaging their business practices are, and how he's spreading the word about this until he gets fired. Notes from talk follow:

McDonald's underperforming massively 1997 - 2002, so they:

  • revamped stores
  • tried to be more visibly responsible (more CSR activity)
  • moved "beyond beef" in restaurants

...and rethought training: saw America's Army, thought they could do this for their execs, training them, and also running a sim for management to be able to predict trends.

Result: "McMarketplace" - GUI + satellite map front end on top of a simulation of factors affecting burger business (think Drug Wars but larger scale).

Found it was useful for training new hires, but not so good for long-term predictions.

So they added an economic module to the sim, from a team at MIT, and also a climate modelling module. These additions made it more accurate, but also showed business stopping at around 2050, when everyone died.

Not only are climate change and earth death bad for business, but some game factors increased this damage: higher beef production, transport costs, etc, in the game increase gas emissions and other pollution, ending the game much earlier.

"Cut emissions by 70% in first 5 years and stop deforestation" = answers from scientists unwelcome: according to the simulation, current McD policies leading to "catastrophic" situation.

Pop-up warnings ("You are about to deforest an area. Continue? [y/n]") have no effect on trainees, who are single-mindedly chasing profits to win the game and ignoring the environment costs.

Solution: change the rules they're working within and simulate harder legislation:

  •         no emissions trading
  •         prices reflect the real cost of material production
  •         no deforestation allowed at all.

Break these rules 3 times, you're out.

It worked!

Players found ways to live with constraints, lived with lower short-term profits but all found ways of using local materials and cutting down on transportation (and didn't kill the planet). Execs also came out idealists: management ignored game results but young thrusting execs took changes to heart.

Lobbying mcdonalds' board + government legislators for making these changes to legislation has had no result - need popular pressure to achieve this kind of change. Ethical consumerism not the answer - actions don't match ideals of consumer in UK (80% claim they want to shop ethically, only 5% actually shop like this).

Economics won't work, legislation needed, need pressure to change law - anything else is a "milquetoast half-measure"; calls BP's CSR half-measures "marginally more polite form of global annihilation".

So he's broken with the McD's message and is going around talking about this game his department made until he gets fired. Plus he has a fantastic graphic of Ronald in Bolshevik headscarf clutching bicep and frowning at viewer.

Closed with pic of Easter island, called for sigs on a petition later on, applause.


I'm gobsmacked. Has anyone any further news on this incredible-sounding event?

(Thanks Rich!)

UPDATE: full text of the speech here!


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Maybe I'm just the eternal cynic, but this smacks of bs to me.

Yeah, I think it's BS too. I just don't think a game maker could do world modeling, mcdonalds or not. Where's the data come from? The amount of data needed to predict these things... Has humanity, let alone McDonalds collected this?


This is so clearly fake. Just look at the registrar info for mcdonaldsinteractive.com:

Marc Cohen
1 Kroc Drive
Oak Brook, IL 60523


Administrative Contact:
Cohen, Marc info@mcvideogame.com
1 Kroc Drive
Oak Brook, IL 60523

Technical Contact:
Hosting Aruba.it, Technical Department technical@staff.aruba.it
Piazza Garibaldi 8
Soci, AR 52010
+39.57551571 Fax: +39.575515790

Registrar of Record: TUCOWS, INC.
Record last updated on 11-Apr-2006.
Record expires on 11-Apr-2007.
Record created on 11-Apr-2006.

Domain servers in listed order:

Not to mention there's no reason why they'd need to simulate climate for a training game about managing McDonalds. If they want to take global warming into account for some reason they can just use the results of the existing studies into the program. As big as McDonald is, I highly doubt their executives can make decision that have such global impacts. All of McDonald's could magically disapear tomorow and it probably wouldn't change much of anything on the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

If it's fake, it's pretty wild that these guys stood up in front of a huge audience and told a giant lie, though, isn't it?

I guess if it's activism, it'll certainly get them *some* column inches, but it's still bloody weird. Why hide it, if it's a protest?

Have the Yes Men struck again?


Those notes were from me, and I have to admit, my first response was to call "hoax!". But, as Alice says, even if it's a hoax, it's still interesting that games (or more strictly, a front-end to a sim) are a medium in which people fancy pulling off a hoax this complex.

It could be Yes-men style, but I was thinking at the time that it was sanctioned by McD's, and we were just meant to think "sock it to the man!" while the Man watched: any hoax would be on us, thinking that this wasn't still part of a subtle McD's CSR effort. But it's pretty subtle for a multinational if it is, right?

The address on the whois lookup from mutex is the same as the one on the card I got from Andrew, so they aren't trying to hide anything. Personally, I think a more parsimonious explanation is that they're trying to have a site outside McDs for when they get sacked, and they aren't too savvy at using the web.

The guys at Kotaku have the wrong game, by the way: it's not the Italian Flash game from a while back they're talking about, but one supposedly developed in-house that looks way different. And the photos and presentation on their site are from the talk I was at.

The biggest question mark for me is the one Paq brought up: why add an "externalities" module in, if you're not already pretty sure it'll have an effect? I'd love to hear from the guys at MIT who worked with them on this.

I posted this bit of hacked script writing on Watercooler but I'll post it here too... Done in the vein of the old 60's show...

So did you see the name of the presenter...

Andrew Shimmery-Wolf

"Holy Anglo-Saxon Hyphenated Names Batman!"

"You're right Robin except it's a Sheep in Wolf's clothing"

"What does that mean Batman?"

"Well Robin, the Wolf is McDonald's and Shimmery means to shine a light on something and the light is shining on a Wolf"

"And McDonald's is the Wolf Batman!"

"Exactly Robin. and Andrew if rewritten as just A gives us A Shimmery Wolf. The Riddler wants us to know that they are the sheep in wolve's clothing a cunning achievement that someone might have seen before it's too late."

"Holy Sherlock Holmes Batman!"

"Apparantly not in time Robin."

This is a play of course Robin - it's the Riddler at work.

=] ben, you're wasted over there. Come over here and write conspiracy dramas!

maybe I should have explained myself some more. The information isn't fake because of the address. In fact, the address is one of the things they actually got right.

It is fake for 2 reasons: 1, the domain was registered 2 months ago. 2, it is managed by tucows.

Now, if this *was* mcdonalds corporate there is an almost certainty they would use the same DNS and server colocation facilities as the company does. A simple whois lookup on mcdonalds.com shows:

McDonald's Corporation
One McDonald's Plaza
1 Kroc Drive
Oak Brook, IL 60523


Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
McDonald's Corporation dns.manager@MCD.COM
One McDonald's Plaza
Oak Brook, IL 60523
630-623-7345 fax: 630-623-5033

Record expires on 11-Jul-2006.
Record created on 12-Jul-1994.
Database last updated on 6-Jun-2006 11:40:31 EDT.

Domain servers in listed order:


Notice the same street address, however the IP's and domain name registrars are very different. They aren't even in the same IP space!

As if the overt green party, anarachy, and socialist activism buzzwords weren't enough this hoax totally fails on being an accurate technical copy of mcdonalds in every form.

I think it's pretty clear that it's some sort of staged thing, although Kotaku's link to Molleindustria doesn't do it for me. No-one seems to have unveiled it as such yet either, which is curious.

We're waiting!

Watercooler Games has a pretty comprehensive overview: http://www.watercoolergames.org/archives/000563.shtml

Looks like ISGE got McPwned...

So it's pretty much confirmed to be the Yes Men. We've dug out most of the facts and I've sent them to the Serious Games Listserv and to Ian who will post them on Watercooler.

Apparantly they had their own camera crew there and they interviewed people who they got to sign releases (not everyone signed apparantly) and so this will end up on the Web site.

I would say some people got brilliantly fooled.

Yes, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonano (The Yes Men) are posing in the header graphics of McDonalds Interactive.

They've done this kind of thing lots of times. They once proposed a free market "solution" to democracy whereby people could auction their vote to the highest bidder. They've also fed students lots of free hamburgers then given a talk on recyling Western consumer's poo into third world fast food, and only that group of students have so far reacted negatively :)

Sorry, guys. You're wrong. This has very definitely been prepetrated by the guys behind the Molle Industria game.

See this in the registrant's info?

Administrative Contact:
Cohen, Marc info@mcvideogame.com
1 Kroc Drive
Oak Brook, IL 60523

Go to www.mcvideogame.com. It's the same game at Molle Industria on a different url. They are very much the perps.

This was fascinatingly bogus.

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